by Jack Diablo
JACK DIABLO: So Tom, you’ve come a long way since we last spoke at the old storage unit. How have things changed or gotten easier for you since you’ve moved in here at Warehouse Studios?
TOM ESSEX: It hasn’t gotten any easier, but given us more to do which is awesome because it’s opened more doors. We’re able to do more as far as recording goes. Even my knowledge of recording has tripled since I was at the storage unit. I know now how to properly record. Before I was just learning as I was going but Ryan’s been doing this for a while and is teaching me everything he knows. Now we have this studio and gear we got from Ryan’s father-in-law and our friend Jason Busch who’s an engineer that does the mastering for us too. A lot of the gear and mics, he built. That definitely helps a lot with the production.
RYAN TURK: He showed us how to do this really cool trick with macadamia nuts. Ever since we learned that, things have just taken off.
JACK: So macadamia nuts are the secret ingredient.
JACK: Tell us about some of the new bands that have come on-board since last year.
TOM: Rice has put out an EP called Breathe and Wild Life Society put out an EP as well. Both of them are working on full length albums right now. Ryan’s now a part of Rice. Right before I was moving in here I was going to start recording Rice but then I found out I was moving here and it ended up better because of the better gear, so that came out really good. What else have we done since then?
MIKE MARTIN: That was about the same time Ryan started recording Wild Life Society and then they decided to join.
JACK: So they started recording first and then became affiliated with Skinny Records?
RYAN: Oh yeah, I’ve probably been recording them for the past year and a half.
TOM: Also, Drew Bond of Opiate Eyes did a solo EP.
RYAN: It’s been the year of EPs.
TOM: And now I think everybody is working on an album.
RYAN: Hopefully all of these albums will be coming out about the same time which will be really cool. And then we have the Skinny Records comp that we’ve been busting our asses on and I’m really excited about that. Wudun just came in and did a song and it’s seriously one of the best songs I’ve ever heard in my life, it’s just the coolest song ever. RickoLus did a song for the comp that he’s still working on which is going to be amazing.
JACK: So there will be other bands that aren’t necessarily affiliated with Skinny?
RYAN: Basically it’s just bands we like and music we want to put out. We’re going to put our money together and do our best to try and put this out on vinyl and we really want to have it full of bands that we like and want to listen to.
TOM: It started last year but has formed into something completely different. The songs have never been used before and will all be original for the compilation. We invited the bands and they come here and record it. There’s going to be about 25 bands and hopefully we can keep it going so we can do one every couple of years or so.
JACK: So Ryan, is there a particular aesthetic or philosophy you adhere to in your recording?
RYAN: That’s a tough question. I really like lo-fi sounds because I came from listening to a lot of nineties indie rock and stuff like that. But that’s just my personal taste. If someone wants a super-big hi-fi sounding record, we can do that also. Basically the whole thing is just use your ears, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. It only matters that it sounds good in the end. You could be using a crappy tape-recorder and the crappiest mic in the world but as long as the performance is good and it sounds good, that’s all that matters.
JACK: Tell us a little about the history of Warehouse Studio.
RYAN: It was built in 1968. Skynard recorded their first album here, they did the first version of ‘Freebird’ here. Classics IV recorded here back in the day. Molly Hatchett did two gold records here. A bunch of bands recorded here over the years. It’s just a great room, it’s been here for a long time. This guy Tom Markham owned it for like 36 years. He’s the guy that pretty much taught me everything I know, he’s the guy who used to throw stuff at me. He retired and sold it and I just happened to luck out and get to move in to the building. But it’s definitely a piece of Jacksonville history. It’s totally got that old vibe with the musty, dusty smell but we like it, it works for us.
The studio is expensive as hell and we aren’t making any money, so we definitely need business. We’re willing to wheel and deal and we’ll beat anyone else’s prices. With the preamps we have here compared to what most of the other studios are running, it’s just crazy. We’ve got 16 inputs of really nice, high-end preamps and most of the other studios have two, three, maybe four decent preamps. We end up recording a lot of hip hop, gospel, country and whatever comes through the door but we’d love to record indie rock bands and punk bands all day long. But we’re definitely willing to work with whatever anybody’s got.
JACK: What are your goals for the future in terms of the business-side of things?
TOM: My main goal, more than making money and getting compensated for doing what we do, is to get the CDs out there whether we make any money or not. I think it will pay off in the long run.
RYAN: We really want to get some of our bands over to Europe to try to do some touring even if it’s just playing what we can get. One good thing is that we’ve got the capability to make as many CDs as we want now. We can print on them and mass produce them. When Opiate Eyes is out touring they’ll be handing CDs out and trying to sell as many as they can but more importantly, just promoting the label. What we’d really like is for the studio to take off and start making money so it can pay for itself and have enough left over so we can do more production deals with the bands we really like. Hopefully one day we can sell enough records that we can do it like a real label but at the same time we want to keep it as far away from a corporate structure as possible.
JACK: Lately I’ve noticed several shared bills between Skinny Records and Bakery Outlet Records in St. Augustine. How did that relationship form?
TOM: Rich Diem, the owner of Bakery Outlet, is a good friend of mine. I became friends with him through a friend of mine in Gainesville who introduced me to Jacob Hamilton who plays in Tubers with Rich. Rich and I started bouncing ideas off of each other because we’re in the same boat although he’s been doing it longer than me. He might start recording bands up here and he sets up shows in St. Augustine.
JACK: Skinny Records has found a home of sorts at the Sinclair which has changed ownership and management several times over the past year. What about it keeps you coming back?
RYAN: I think it’s cool because there’s a nice green room up there and we like having that for the bands. And partly because I’m the sound guy so I’m game for whatever. We like the Sinclair because the Sinclair lets us do whatever we want to do really.
TOM: It’s still a new club so I think it has the potential to be really cool.
JACK: So other than the comp and assorted full lengths are there any big plans for the future?
RYAN: Well we plan on taking over the world, that’s number one, then moving to Canada.
TOM: When the comp comes out there’s definitely going to be like a weekend festival with all the bands playing that are on it.
RYAN: There’s been some talk about getting a Gummi Bear endorsement, so we’re working towards that.
TOM: Opiate Eyes is touring up to Boston starting December 1st with the first show at Underbelly after Art Walk.
RYAN: We’re trying to teach everyone this trick with macadamia nuts because once our whole crew gets that trick and spreads it to the world, it’s on from there. Everyone’s going to have their headphones on nodding their heads to Opiate Eyes and Rice, it’s going to be cool.
JACK: So is there truth to the rumor of a beef between Skinny and Infintesmal Records?
TOM: No, there is no beef between Infintesmal and Skinny Records. I always get that though.
RYAN: Why would people say that? I’m all for anybody that’s going to try to do anything to help local music.
TOM: We’ve talked about it before but somehow, I guess because we don’t always do shows together that people automatically assume there’s a beef.
RYAN: That’s ridiculous, I didn’t know that. That’s weird!
With access to high-end recording equipment, studio rehearsal space and a dedicated team of hard-working individuals, the Skinny machine shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. For more information on Skinny Records and their upcoming events, look them up on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter and be sure to catch an upcoming Skinny Saturday at the Sinclair.
BANDS ON SKINNY
Wild Life Society
The Dean Martians
Gnarly By Nature
All You Can Eat
The Band’s Perspective: Mike Martin of Rice
JACK DIABLO: From the perspective of a band member, what has working with Skinny Records done for you that you might not have been able to accomplish on your own?
MIKE MARTIN: Well, honestly Rice is first band I’ve ever been in, Chris and I had never been in a band before. We just got together, started making some songs, then Paige and Summer came. We played our first show at Shantytown and Tom came up to us and was like, “Hey, you guys are great.” We worked out a deal for him to record the EP for us and everything just started fitting together. Now I’m learning how to do all this crazy recording stuff that I’ve always wanted to do. Skinny Records has a name for itself so I feel like I’m really doing something important with other people in Jacksonville. All of the bands that are here are working really hard to make something great happen. So, it’s been good.